These observations and stages come from my own work with children in the studio as well as from reading and observations by Ursula Kolbe, Kathleen Bailer, Howard Gardner and Rhoda Kellogg and Viktor Lowenfeld.
The images here are ones I have created to resemble children's art at each stage. Here I will focus on drawing and collage with links at the end for further reading and examples of the stages. I have settled on this version of developmental stages to share because it describes both the look of the art and the behavior of the child making the art and exploring the materials. While the stages progress they are not necessarily linear and can repeat or circle back at different times in the developmental process. An alternative title to this post could be:
Developmental Stages of Materials Exploration...
Adults can help guide this stage by modeling and exploring alongside young children.
In collage work, exploration is again a time of getting to know the materials. In the collage on the left, a bit of coloring in the glue allows the child to see where the glue is applied on the paper. Here the glue is applied with the brush and spread like paint. Scraps stuck down appear random and some glue is left just as marks on the paper. There is a good chance that a child may try to remove the pieces once this is dry, again testing the materials and what they will do.
The energy stage is characterized by joy in movement and mark making. Children often have a heavy hand here, eager to cover as paper as possible with big energetic marks. There is less awareness of what the kind of marks made than just an engagement with using the material to make energetic marks. Mark making often focuses more heavily on one area of the paper or is layered. As you see on the right, children may also explore alternative ways to make marks such as the lighter lines above created by scratching back into the thickly applied oil pastel.
Children transition to the shape stage when they begin to pay attention to the results of their action on the page. Movements create certain marks and children begin to see how repetitive motions make lines and circular scribbles. This is also where children begin to complete shapes, traveling the crayon around the page and returning to the starting point to create a closed shape.
This is also the stage where children may begin to name and tell stories about their images.
This stage is characterized by explorations of map making (upper left), geometric designs (lower left), intentional and ordered blocks of color arranged on the page (upper right) and radials (lower right).
Again, stories and understanding the child's intentions are important at this stage. When I first learned about this stage, it opened up for me to see children's drawing in many new and interesting ways, beyond just observational representation and to really look at ways drawing is a symbolic language.
Sometimes children will represent objects they see with collage sooner than then can draw those same objects. The ability to build with shapes in collage may help to facilitate this.
This representation with collage may also look similar to the kind of teacher-directed crafts that allow children to represent with shapes by following directions. It is important to note that while these sort of projects can model the potential for building with shapes, children need time to practice these skills on their own and come up with their own creations using open-ended materials.
This second collage shows how collage work can progress from simple flat representation to something that shows texture, layering and depth in an image. The chance to explore open-ended materials allows the creator to enter into conversation with the materials and explore and discover along the way, ultimately creating more complex images and designs.
An understanding of stages of development is an important part of facilitating process art and can help to deepen observations of children's work with materials. For examples of these stages with clay work, visit my introduction to clay powerpoint at this link.